Late last week, just a few short days ahead of the 2012 edition of the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual networking ho-down, the Greenbuild Conference & Expo, San Francisco-based nonprofit the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute announced the winners of the first-ever Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge.

At the Institute's Innovation Celebration in New York — among the attendees: green cleaning product guru Adam Lowry of Method, William McDonough, MNN’s own Chuck Leavell, and other eco-luminaries and sustainable design leaders — the four winners, selected from a pool of 10 finalists, were honored for successfully creating (all entrants had to be fully capable of manufacturing their competing products) “highly creative and innovative product concepts for healthy, sustainable, affordable housing.”

Having been scrutinized by the Challenge's judging panel and undergone full screenings by Cradle to Cradle Certification experts, Make It Right Building professionals, and a team of toxicologists, the finalists were required to, of course, meet the criteria outlined within Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standards: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. Essentially, in addition to being safe for both for humans and the environment, the competing products also were required to be “designed for re-use, returning safely to soil or to industry forever after its use.”

I anticipated, in some sort of green building material clean sweep, that Ecovative Mushroom Insulation, which recently took top honors in the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge, would also win the inaugural Cradle to Cradle Production Innovation Challenge. However, that honor went to bioMason’s biobricks with Ecovative coming in second place. Ginger Dosier, bioMason's founder, has also scored another big honor in recents months having won the Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge back in September.

A bit more info about the first place winner — a $125,000 cash prize was awarded to Dosier — in which bricks are “grown” instead of fired:
bioMASON’s protected technology instead employs bacteria to produce a natural cement within a mix of aggregate. Inputs are globally abundant and may be extracted from waste streams. The cementation process is achieved in ambient temperatures. A hardened brick requires less than 5 days to form, and is comparable in cost and performance to traditional masonry.
And more about the conventional building material, standard clay masonry bricks, that it serves as an alternative to:
Bricks are most commonly made from clay, which is molded and then fired in a kiln. They are very durable and have been used in buildings for centuries. However, the firing process is quite energy-intensive, giving the material a high carbon footprint.  Firing also releases a range of pollutants (fluorides, chlorides, nitrogen/sulfur oxides, etc.). Some of these pollutants are released when naturally occurring chemicals in the clay are exposed to high temperatures, and others are released by the fossil fuels burned to provide energy for the process.
ROMA Domus Mineral Paints and ECOR Universal Construction Panels tied for third place in the Challenge, sponsored in partnership with  which was sponsored by the Cradle to Cradle Productions Innovation Institute with Brad Pitt’s affordable green housing initiative Make It Right,

As Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute president Bridgett Luther explains, picking a set of winners wasn't easy: “Our biggest hurdle was picking only four winners — we had a number of great products for the affordable housing market. All of these winning products are good for the bottom line and the planet."

Kudos to Dosier, the Ecovative team, and the rest of the Challenge winners and finalists for setting a remarkable high bar for round two next year.

Event image: John Walder/Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Bacteria-'grown' brick wins Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge
Biobrick, a low-impact alternative to conventional masonry bricks, scores top honors in the inaugural Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge.